STOCKBRIDGE – Kirby Smart arrived by helicopter. He left about three hours later, in more understated fashion, by white sedan.
In between, Smart embraced the last man to win a game as Georgia’s head football coach, coached up some youngsters, and partook in his second satellite camp.
Much like Smart’s entrance on Thursday, this satellite camp was much quieter than his first.
There was no Jim Harbaugh conducting a circus-like atmosphere and cameras everywhere. By the time Smart arrived at this event, at Woodland High School in Stockbridge, the other big-name coaches had long departed. Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema came for the morning session of the event, sponsored by the Georgia Minority Coaches Association.
That left Smart as the main attraction, unlike last week’s event, when he was overshadowed by Harbaugh. But Smart, who brought along three support staffers but no assistant coaches, made a bigger splash on arrival than anytime else.
The Kirby-copter – the same yellow one that has transported him around recruiting and to last week’s camp – could be heard before it was seen. It came in over a row of trees, circled the field to find a landing spot, then settled on a small open field about 50 feet from the main stadium. A couple staffers from the satellite camp drove up in a golf cart and picked up Smart and his staffer.
The cart drove through a parking lot, past another coach, distracted in conversation on the phone. Bryan McClendon looked a bit strange in a South Carolina Gamecocks shirt, five months since guiding Georgia to a bowl win as the Bulldogs’ interim head coach.
Smart arrived on the field, where he was met and razzed by an old recruiting foe: Trooper Taylor, the one-time Auburn assistant coach and now an assistant at Arkansas State.
“We can’t get started till there’s Kirby!” Taylor said as he playfully slapped Smart, who laughed and said something back.
Then Smart made his way to the middle of the field, as players warmed up. He caught up with some staffers from Alabama; Smart’s former school sent five staffers, most of them non-coaches whose job, it seemed, was to stand prominently in a row so the campers knew Alabama was there.
One of them was Sam Pettito, who spent the previous two years at Georgia as player personnel director, and coached Georgia’s secondary in that bowl win.
McClendon and Smart’s paths ended up crossing briefly. If there was any awkwardness – McClendon either wasn’t retained by Smart, or chose on his own to depart – it wasn’t outwardly evident. The pair saw each other, each smiled and stuck out their hands wide for a shake, and then they embraced. They talked briefly and then moved on. McClendon, who had been at the morning and early afternoon sessions, didn’t stick around long for the evening one.
But Smart did. During an one-hour long session, Smart oversaw a drill in which a couple dozen players at a time rotated through. Smart, who coached inside linebackers at Alabama last season, guided the players in side-to-side drills, among other things, patting a few on the helmet and saying a few words.
Unlike Harbaugh’s satetllite camp tour, Smart didn’t use the camp as a chance to sell himself and his program. He didn’t hold a press conference, and didn’t give a big on-field speech to the thousand or so campers.
The overall value of this camp to Georgia and the big-name schools is debatable. Meyer mainly came because he’s recruiting Emory Jones, the dual-threat quarterback who was there in the morning. Smart and Georgia are targeting D’Antne Demery, a massive offensive tackle at Brunswick High School, which was also there. Alabama and its small army of staffers was also there for Demery to see.
The satellite camps are new for SEC coaches, who are still feeling out how to handle them. Much of it is playing defense – making sure the Harbaughs, Meyers and other non-southern schools don’t manage to invade their recruiting territory.
“I’ll be at a few of these, make an appearance, and make sure that we’re there, showing our face, and doing a good job of promoting our university if our name’s on it,” Smart said last week in Destin at SEC meetings.
But the main beneficiary of these camps, at least it seems right now, are the smaller schools, or at least non-big names. Some from very far away.
“This is an opportunity for all the FBS (schools), all the schools that are different to come and see the rich talent in Georgia,” said Ahmand Tinker, the executive director of the Georgia Minority Coaches Association.”
Oregon State brought not one, not two, not three, but five staffers to Stockbridge. Before it left it had offered at least one player; Defensive back Justin Gardner, a rising senior at Shiloh High School in Snellville.
Minnesota also had three staffers there. If Smart and Georgia end up having to worry about losing recruits to Oregon State and Minnesota, then there’s probably a lot more to worry about that.
No, for Smart the important thing was being seen. A few hundred young campers in the state could say they were coached up, ever so briefly, by Georgia’s head coach.
“You don’t know who that kid, who may be an 8th-grader in the camp, or may be a 9th-grader, you never know who that kid is going to turn into,” Tinker said.